artistic illustration of a Grecian urn set against a backdrop of hills and columns

Ode on a Grecian Urn

by John Keats

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What personal thoughts does the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" arouse in Keats, considering his life and the conditions of his time?

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As a Hellenist, Keats held a devotion to ancient Greece.  Believing in inspiration as the requisite for writing poetry, he found the artifacts of Greece as objects as well as nature for his appreciation of beauty.  In fact, he sought to refine his idea of beauty in the contemplation of nature and, of course, the Grecian urn.  In 1819, when Keats wrote "Ode to a Grecian Urn," Romanticism and democracy both were promoting ideals of freedom, as Keats envisioned a certain freedom from the ravages of time that the figures on the urn possess. 

In addition to these personal feelings, Keats was well aware of the temporal nature of an individual's life since he lost his brother and mother to tuberculosis and was himself suffering from this disease.  So, when he wrote his meditation upon the art on the urn, there was in him a very deep, personal aesthetic appreciation. Reflecting upon the eternity of the beauty of art, Keats wrote,

When old age shall this generation waste,

Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe

Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"--that is all

Ye know on earth, and ye need to know.

For Keats, great art embodied the ideal of truth, unalterable beauty, love, and eternity.

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